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The Fruit of Solitude

The Fruit of Solitude

If the spiritual discipline of solitude doesn't impact real life, it's not worth much.

Ruth Haley Barton  |  posted 2/27/2012

Note: This article is excerpted from Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God's Transforming Presence.

One night I began to see a glimmer of something new and good for others emerging from my experiences in solitude. It was a beautiful summer evening, the windows and doors were all open, and our home and yard were full of the kind of energy that only a group of lively junior high schoolers could bring. No matter that it was getting late, I was trying to meet a writing deadline, and tomorrow was a full day of work; on this night our daughter Bethany and about 20 of her closest friends had come together for an evening of spontaneous "hanging out" at our home. Some were in the backyard playing volleyball, others were on the street shooting hoops, another contingency played pool in the basement, and always there was someone traipsing past my office for a drink or a snack.

My initial reaction to this scenario was irritation. Couldn't I just get a break here? Couldn't I get a little peace and quiet so I could get something done? This was not a new feeling for me; it is who I am when left to myself. All too often, I have responded to my life in the company of others with this kind of frustration, bent on getting my own way and shaping my environment to my own wants and needs. In fact, the awareness of my self-centeredness was one of the things that had sent me on the quest for deeper levels of transformation in the first place.

But on this night I found myself finally ready to ask a different kind of question. Rather than asking how I could manipulate my environment to get what I wanted, the question came, Is there anything from my experiences of fullness in God these days that I can bring to this moment, to these children? I wasn't asking the question out of the "guilty mom" place. I was asking it because everything in me ached to give some good gift to these teenagers. But how?

I remembered Julian of Norwich's wonderful statement about being present to God when in the company of others: "I look at God, I look at you, and I keep looking at God." Although I had often prayed for others in this way during times of solitude, on that night I decided to try it in the midst of a very ordinary moment of my life as a busy mom in a houseful of kids, facing deadlines and long workdays, a moment that is repeated over and over again these days. I thought, If my experiences in solitude and silence don't make a difference in this real life moment, then I'm not sure any of this is worth much.

So I looked at God. Sitting in front of my computer trying to bang out an article, tired, kids coming and going from every door … I turned inward to that place of quiet where I had grown accustomed to meeting God and asked him to give me sacred eyes—set-apart eyes to see and feel and know spiritual reality in this moment.

Then as I turned my eyes to the children, I began to see and feel things that were a bit uncharacteristic for me. Rather than being frustrated by the desire to be alone so I could write, I was filled with gratitude that these young people had chosen to be in a home where parents are present, expending their youthful energy in life-affirming ways. Rather than wishing my home were quiet, I began experiencing the noise and activity as the energy of youthful spirit, and I was drawn to it, filled by it. Rather than experiencing their comings and goings and curious questions as interruptions, I started noticing how beautiful and distinct each one was, and I was enlivened by the privilege of interacting with them.

Topics:Life-change, Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual formation, Spiritual growth, Transformation
Date Added:February 27, 2012

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